Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tommy's Take on Lankhmar: City of Thieves

Pinnacle Entertainment and Goodman Games both announced Lankhmar products, and Pinnacle's version is available for preorder today. This is a review of that book.
ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I just completed a completely unrelated freelance contract with the publisher for a different project. I was provided a complimentary digital review copy of the book.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The pre order goes live today. Don't know the details, but you will find them on their website, I'm sure. Print and PDF bundles are common with Pinnacle. The book is completely unrelated to the Savage Worlds book Jalizar: City of Thieves, though they both use Savage Worlds and are in the swords and sorcery genre. Lankhmar is based on the series of tales by Fritz Lieber and starring Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. The first book (and Pinnacle has confirmed that more are coming) is about 96 pages and includes setting rules, races and Edges for Lankhmar, as well as an overview of the city and setting, but you will still need the Savage Worlds rules to play (though the full rules can be gained at the insanely reasonable $10 price point).

The first time I had ever heard of Lankhmar was during the AD&D2e days, when I bought the 2e boxed set. I eagerly devoured that set and that was the first time I recall seeing a full blown random adventure generator. I was thrilled.

Last year, I was able to round up a set of the paperbacks, and this year - well - Lankhmar comes to Savage Worlds. I was thrilled with the announcement.

One of the first major departures this book makes from standard Pinnacle fare is that it encourages players to cast shades of gray in their characters, as good and evil are hardly absolutes in Lankhmar. When one of the suggested character types is an Escaped Slave who is willing to sell others into slavery, you know we are in new territory here.

Character creation is standard Savage Worlds fare, though Humans can take their typical free Edge, plus a d6 in a skill, or they can take one of four cultural packages. Don't wanna be a human? There are also Ghouls and Ratlings. My favorite new Hindrance is Amorous, which makes one susceptible to a pretty face, and totally keeping in genre. New Edges include Black Magic, White Magic and Elemental Magic, Brutal (which gives you bonuses to damage equal to your Wound penalties, recently added back into Deadlands Reloaded as Don't Get 'im Riled after first appearing in Classic), Determined (which gives free Soak rolls when you are about to become Incapacitated), Wall of Steel (which eliminates Gang Up bonus as long as you are armed), and Honeyed Tongue (which makes you a smooth talker and negotiator).

The Setting Rules are many: Jokers give everyone a benny, and you can't spend one if you roll 1s on your Wild and Trait dice. Money drains quickly, and if you are hit by someone with The Drop, you may be immediately knocked out. Heroes heal quickly, and heroes without armor get bonuses to their Soak rolls (and can still be magically protected).

As for magic, there are no Power Points, and you can spend more time casting spells to cut down penalties. Overtly offensive magic is gone as well, and each of the three schools (Black, White and Elemental) has its own Backlash effect. The scariest is Black Magic, which can warp you mentally and physically.

The world of Nehwon and the city of Lankhmar each get gorgeous maps, and the Lankhmar gazetteer covers the city in broad strokes, leaving the GM's section to open up the larger world, as well as covering the city in detail. A sidebar touches on slavery and prostitution, not warning the GM against using those themes, but warning them to be wary of how their players may react to those topics. Another sidebar does champion more gender equality than Fritz Lieber showed in his stories, for what that's worth. The city itself is given plenty of coverage and suggestions for what the PCs may do in the City of Thieves.

The book encourages the use of magic items, just making them a little more powerful, more mysterious and fleeting...a method of GMing I love, and am already using in the Forgotten Realms of all places.

A pair of Savage Tales are provided, more fleshed out than Savage Tales tend to be, both designed for Novice rank. One involves a twisted murder plot, while the other involves a hunt for a special potion.

Four sets of stats (at various points in their careers) are provided for Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, and their mysterious patrons Ningauble and Sheelba are touched on in a two page spread (no stats). The rest of the book is rounded out with a slew of generic NPC stats appropriate for the setting.

SIX POINT SUMMARY

- For my money, we now need Conan to complete the Holy Trinity, between this and Solomon Kane.

- I love the setting rules that have been added in, which will give Lankhmar a very different feel than other Savage Settings.

- I was spoiled by that old boxed set. I would have loved a random adventure generator. The Savage Tales are nice, but without any real advice for constructing a Lankhmar appropriate adventure, a random adventure could have provided a nice spark.

- I dislike Power Points, so removing them AND adding a sick corruption table for Black Magic is a huge win in my book.

- The Edges and Setting Rules combine to make the heroes feel a little more special and a little more awesome, but the Savage Worlds rules should still keep them grounded, given the inherent brutality of the system (and the benny freeze on double 1s).

- The book does a nice job of trying to catch you up to speed without blowing the whole story on Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, though certain chunks have to be revealed by necessity.

As a Savage Worlds fan, and a Lankhmar fan, I am interested to see just what's coming next. But I can never bring this to my game table, because one of my players saw the Setting Rule Pinnacle released (No Honor Among Thieves) and much more brutal it makes betrayal attempts, and I know our games would quickly devolve into chaotic messes that end in two of the three PCs dead (at least). Other than *that*? And the lack of a random adventure generator (something on the level of the epic Hell on Earth Reloaded Generator would be GREAT)?  I like. As a Savage Worlds fan, I think this is awesome. As a Lankhmar fan, I'm glad that Lankhmar options are out there, supported and in print, and I hope every Lankhmar fan finds a flavor that tastes just right.